An Indiana University professor selected to become the number two official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency faced contentious questioning from senators during her first confirmation hearing.
Janet McCabe, professor of practice at IU’s McKinney School of Law and director of IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute, was nominated by the Biden administration to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA.
She testified alongside Brenda Mallory, President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, during a hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works.
McCabe previously served in the EPA during the Obama administration as acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation.
“It is so humbling that President Biden has nominated me to serve as deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and, if confirmed, it will be a tremendous honor to return to the agency and to work collaboratively with you, with EPA’s many partners, and the wonderful EPA staff to protect the health of American families, communities and our environment,” McCabe told the committee.
Before joining the EPA, McCabe was executive director of Improving Kids’ Environment Inc., a children’s environmental health advocacy group based in Indianapolis, and worked at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management from 1993 to 2005.
McCabe told the senators that her experiences in her adopted home of Indiana shaped her commitment to creating healthier communities for all Americans.
“I learned early on how poor air quality can worsen asthma and other respiratory problems, leading to higher medical bills, missed days of school and work, and an overall diminished quality of life. Air pollution is connected with heart disease, cancer and birth defects. It shortens lives. These and other public health issues facing our fellow Americans have motivated my work,” she said.
McCabe told senators she would focus on the critical partnership between the EPA and individual states in order to confront problems like air pollution, PFAS contamination and other contamination problems.
“This relationship requires openness, transparency, flexibility, and a willingness to listen, even if there are times when we do not agree. Being open and willing to listen to all stakeholders is how EPA should be doing its business. And if I’m confirmed, I would be guided by a commitment to fostering open dialogue and giving as many as possible a seat at the table,” she testified.
McCabe faced tough questions from Republican senators about environmental executive orders and one of her accomplishments during the Obama administration, the Clean Power Plan, a regulation that placed the first national standards on carbon pollution emitted from power plants.
McCabe was one of the architects of the Clean Power Plan, along with current National Climate Advisor and former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy and Joseph Goffman, principal deputy assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.
The plan was praised by environmental and health advocacy groups, but reviled by conservative groups and fossil fuel-dependent state legislators across the country. Several states sued to stop the CPP from being implemented, and the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay, putting the law in limbo.
The plan was eventually repealed and replaced by the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule, an attempt to give states more power over emissions regulations. A federal court eventually scrapped the ACE Rule, and the Biden administration said it would not revive the Clean Power Plan.
Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota told McCabe that she faced an uphill battle because of her Clean Power Plan past and a lack of transparency and stakeholder interaction forming the plan.
McCabe said she understood the senator’s frustration, but that the CPP was the result of a lot of outreach.
“I understand your position and what you’re saying. I have to tell you that when I was working at EPA before, I was absolutely sincere in my commitment to involve everybody. And I know that there are many who disagreed with the outcome of that rule, but in terms of listening to people and hearing people an taking everybody’s perspective into account, we certainly did that in a lengthy process that we went through on the Clean Power Plan,” she testified.
McCabe has the support of nine former deputy administrators who served during Republican and Democratic administrations, over 200 former EPA employees and many environmental groups.